A friend sent me a fascinating and gripping article about the black woman director, Dee Rees. After years of doing strong work in theater, e.g., “Pariah,” “The Last Thing He Wanted,” and the powerful “Mudbound,” Rees is currently working on an ambitious opera and moving into “big-time” Hollywood. So I am reading along feeling both excited to learn about Rees’ body of work and irritated that I have not heard of her before now. I have grown accustomed, when reading articles put onto the Internet from newspapers or magazines, to having the text be peppered with annoying boxes running ads for things like tooth paste or viagra or vacations in warm places. As my eye was moving down the page on my computer, I saw a long horizontal line, cuing me that such an interruption was about to appear.
It did and it was an advertisement for the current revival of Harper Lee’s novel To Kill a Mockingbird. I’ve never been a fan of this book because early on I realized, as a white person who grew up in Alabama in the 1940’s and 50’s, that Lee had provided white Southerners with exactly the story they needed. A white lawyer stepped in to argue for the innocence of a black man and his daughter worshipped him as the white savior/hero he was. So, when I learned of this revival, I felt like I did when “The Green Book” won the Oscar instead of that little tinpot statuette’s going to “Black Panther” or “The Favourite.” So I just was going to gloss over the interruptive box and keep reading about Ms. Rees who tells the truth about race. But then I actually read what was inside the box: “‘To Kill a Mockingbird” has not played to a single empty seat. It is now the most successful American play in Broadway history.” I felt kicked in the stomach by a soft pillow–yes, I intend the mixed metaphor.
For no one in the production office that posts things like the excellent article on Dee Rees not to have caught this glaring and painful incongruity is outrageous. To conjoin an account of this innovative and talented artist’s work with praise for the cotton candy story of Atticus and Scout is so offensive I can hardly bear it. I only hope Ms. Rees’ wife, the memoirist Sarah Bloom, has shone this visual travesty to Dee so they can have had a big laugh–or thrown a heavy book at their computer screen–whichever might have felt like more fun.